NI fishermen face battle over fishing quotas

boat coming into harbour Constant quota reductions mean very few boats now fish for cod

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The agriculture minister has said she is preparing to "put the science on the table" in Europe to protect Northern Ireland's fishermen.

Michelle O'Neill is in Brussels to negotiate Northern Ireland's part of the EU fishing quotas for next year.

The commission wants to end cod fishing and to cut catches of white fish such as haddock and plaice by 25%.

Ms O'Neill said it would be a "tough negotiation".

"They want 19% cut in prawns and most of our vessels fish for prawns. That is absolute nonsense given that stock levels are really good and the science is really good to support that," she said.

"They want a 25% cut in Irish sea herring. The science is there to say this stock is in the best position it has been in for long many's a day."

She said the aim was to bring levels right down.

"I'm interested in ensuring that we have sustainable fisheries here for our fishermen so that in 10, 20 or 30 years time we have a sustainable fishery that they can go out and fish, that they can have an income from," she said.

The minister said the cuts that the commission seemed to be trying to impose were disproportionate to that type of risk.

prawns The EC proposes a 19% cut in prawn quotas

"We have a very strong science team and our own science vessel. We have the science to back up what we are saying. We will be hoping that, for example with prawns, we will keep catch at present levels with no cuts.

"I'm going to make the case strongly and put the science on the table."

Kilkeel fisherman Trevor McKee, who has been catching cod for more than 30 years, said: "We believe there is more cod in the Irish Sea than there has been for years because of what we see when we go to sea and because of what we catch.

"Unfortunately our data is treated as anecdotal."

Mr McKee said he believes that by working with Brussels scientists, he and other local cod fishermen could prove plenty of cod remain in local waters.

The talks in Brussels will take place over several days.

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